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A crude price to pay for oil

TO DATE the West has been smugly dismissive of the gold-braided and slightly ridiculous figure of Colonel Gaddafi. His penchant for Pierre Cardin and his "Killer Virgin" posse of beautiful bodyguards made it easy to take him lightly.

He was, after all, the best type of dictator -- once bought, he stayed bought. Events in Libya this week showed that turning a blind eye to the barbarism so that we can enjoy our creature comforts without troubling our consciences unduly comes at a cost.

Yesterday, Gaddafi trained his guns on the crowds leaving mosques after Friday prayers.

The death toll in the pitched battles taking place in Tripoli and across Libya is as yet unknown, but reports say that thousands have been killed.

The UN is concerned, President Barack Obama and others have sounded their displeasure and the usual talk of sanctions and other punitive measures has been heard.

The crisis had set the price of oil surging. The markets are shouting to the world something it should have grasped long ago: that the global economy is disastrously over-reliant on energy from the most unstable of regions.

The 'people power revolutions' in Tunisia and Egypt have created the kind of shockwaves that have their epicentre in Libya. When oil supplies begin to dwindle, the price at the pumps soars and the world shudders.

Eyes are understandably now fixed on Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter.

Only days ago, King Abdullah promised a £22bn financial welfare package for his subjects.

He too has evidently been chilled by the winds of change currently blowing across the desert.

Last month, Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt with an iron fist -- now he is history. Gaddafi could also be on the way down but it would be dangerous to underestimate the sting of a dying scorpion.

Commentators have observed that after World War Two, the West entered into a Faustian bargain with autocratic Middle Eastern regimes.

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The deal was, we would buy their oil and look the other way when it came to the repression of their populations. China has made a similar bargain with repressive regimes more recently.

The people power revolutions are upsetting previously cosy relationships and dubious trade agreements.

What is unacceptable in the West should not be tolerated in countries where human rights are trampled on.

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